What is the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)?

Josephine Walbank
February 7, 2022
sca specialty coffee

Few organisations have had as much of an influence on specialty coffee as the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).

With a global membership in the thousands, it not only represents professionals who contribute to the specialty coffee supply chain, but also provides a platform to help further innovation and expertise.

As a trade association, the SCA provides a platform for those within the coffee sector to help further their knowledge of the industry.

Anyone from producers to baristas can gain insight into industry trends and developments. Through the SCA, they can also contribute towards industry standards and best practices.

In particular, the SCA prides itself on its ethos of sharing knowledge. Its goal is to build a global community and maintain the sustainability and success of the specialty coffee sector.

Read on to learn more about the SCA and the impact it has made within the industry.

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sca coffee baristas

Why did the SCA emerge?

In 1982, the Specialty Coffee Association of America was formed by those working in the sector. Their goal was to establish new quality standards and discuss challenges within the industry. 

At the time, the primary focus of the industry was on low prices and consistent taste. This means instant coffee was most common.  

Furthermore, there was no mention of the coffee’s origin or information about how it was processed. Essentially, there was only a focus on the convenience of the beverage and not the characteristics of the coffee itself.  

Six years later, the Specialty Coffee Association in Europe was established to address the same issues. 

As roasters and cafés began exploring higher-quality coffee, the focus of the industry shifted. The specialty coffee segment was born as more consumers realised there was more to coffee than bitterness. 

In January 2017, these powerful organisations pooled together their 10,000-strong network of members to form the Specialty Coffee Association. 

As a result, the specialty coffee segment is the largest coffee sub-industry in America. The focus has shifted to specific flavour notes, the coffee’s origin, as well as having complete transparency throughout the value chain.

cupping coffee

What is the role of the SCA?

The SCA has influenced all aspects of the supply chain.

Over the last five years, the SCA has built a membership of thousands of coffee farmers, roasters, baristas, and café owners.

The body unites these professionals under the shared goal of achieving higher success for the sector. The organisation does this in six primary ways.


The SCA organises some of the largest annual events on the coffee calendar, namely the World of Coffee. This is the largest coffee experience in Europe. Furthermore, it plans the Specialty Coffee Expo, which is the largest event in North America.

Additionally, the SCA hosts the annual Sensory Summit. This is an event dedicated to sharing discoveries in academic specialty coffee research.

Research & education

The SCA explores everything from market trends to improvement initiatives and economics. More importantly, the educational programmes they provide are internationally recognised.

These programmes cover key topics such as barista skills, brewing, roasting, and sensory skills. 

In fact, their events, classes and education resources are some of the most informative in the world.

Some of the most recent influential studies undertaken by the SCA are the Price Crisis Response Initiative, the whitepaper Towards a Definition of Specialty Coffee, and A Business Case to Increase Specialty Coffee Consumption in Producing Countries. All of these are available to the public for free.

Additionally, the association provides specialist information that is usually reserved for big businesses with private analysts.

They share these findings with the coffee community, helping members improve their business models. Additionally, this research can improve industry standards and the quality of the product.

What’s more, the SCA publishes a wealth of analytic market research. This helps coffee professionals understand the latest business trends. 

Partnerships & community work

By partnering with other influential businesses, the SCA is able to collaborate with local communities. This helps share knowledge and skills with those who need it.

Programmes & networking opportunities

When attending SCA events, members can participate in different educational programmes, as well as network with professionals across the coffee chain.


How has the SCA influenced specialty coffee?

Thanks to ongoing research, the SCA has had an extensive impact upon the quality standards, equitability, and sustainability within the sector.

The SCA Guilds

These guilds allow members to be fully involved in the association. The global trade guilds are the Barista Guild, the Coffee Roasters Guild, and the Coffee Technicians Guild.

Each one encourages technological innovation and fosters a culture of shared knowledge.

Best practices

The SCA Standards Committee and Professional Development Department are responsible for creating and establishing a series of industry protocols and best practices.

Each protocol is a qualifiable process that is recommended to achieve the highest possible quality standards.

For example, the SCA’s Cupping Protocols and scoring system governs equipment, sample evaluation and final scoring

On the other hand, its Brewing Best Practices relates to specific procedures created for each brewing technique.

Coffee quality standards

The SCA industry standards aim to increase coffee quality while keeping the sector ethical and sustainable.

The Standards Development Panel is an internal body within the SCA. This panel creates and continuously evaluates the standards documents submitted.

Documents may be submitted by a member of the coffee community or the SCA itself. Once a new or revised standard is drafted, it is passed to an expert in that field. 

Once the document has been vetted by experts and members of the SCA, it can be passed to the Standards Development Panel for approval. Each member of the Panel must vote for their approval of the standard. 

These standards cover equipment and product sustainability, to name a few. Furthermore, the SCA also allows individual members to propose new standards.


Consequently, the SCA’s core goal of creating a strong, collaborative coffee community has been one of its greatest successes.

It continues to build a progressive community of skilled professionals committed to ongoing collaboration across the industry.

Through this mindset, the sector and everyone within it can continue growing from strength to strength.

sustainable coffee bags


The Sustainability Centre of the SCA strives to improve industry understanding of essential social, environmental, and economic issues in the industry.

Through their research and partnerships, the SCA provides the specialty sector with a mutually beneficial system of support that extends across the entire supply chain.

In addition to this, the SCA is committed to addressing social issues, and advocating equality and environmental sustainability throughout the industry.

MTPak Coffee can help move your business towards more sustainable practices through the use of sustainable coffee bags.

Our range includes recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable options. We can create packaging that will preserve the freshness of your coffee and highlight your commitment to the environment. 

For information on our coffee packaging, contact our team.

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